Like other organizations, colleges and universities depend upon good public relations and marketing campaigns to build and maintain positive images. A primary goal of such campaigns is to recruit new students, essential to the existence of every academic institution. As every college student and high school junior knows, colleges spend a lot of money on printed materials, web sites and social media, plus ubiquitous open house events at which visitors see the campus and hear “the spiel.”
My PR pal and adjunct professor at Hofstra University, Bert Cunningham, likes to bring PR stories to my attention. This week Professor Cunningham shared an article in the Wall Street Journal by Marek Fuchs titled, “Oh, No, Not Another College Tour!” which focuses on (from his perspective) the mistakes colleges and universities typically make during spring’s “open house” season. He believes institutions miss opportunities to answer real questions and concerns, because group tours tend to focus on showcasing the school’s superficial positives such as ample library hours, dining options, the landscaping, and environmental consciousness while being conducted by well-rehearsed, well-scrubbed student guides.
But is this such a bad thing? If the purpose of an open house is to convince potential students and their parents or guardians of the school’s virtues, then why not put their best foot forward and highlight all things positive? Fuchs, a writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said, “But it does seem that with so much depending on the outcome of their pitch, colleges should put more original effort into the standard-issue, plain (fat-free) vanilla tour.” He suggests separate tours for parents and students to create a more free exchange of ideas and questions, night tours since so much campus life goes on after hours, anonymous questions so no one holds anything back, and untrained random student tour guides (which is a terrible idea!).
I believe most institutions already encourage the kinds of exchanges Fuchs is recommending. And parents and potential students should gravitate to those schools which create a comfortable environment for asking questions. That’s just good PR. Your thoughts?